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'I thought my son was smoking weed. He was hiding a much darker secret.'

This story includes depictions of addiction and self-harm.

Pat* was born on my birthday. I joked that for my 32nd birthday; I got a son. It was a long, difficult labour, ending in an emergency caesarean. But he was born, big and beautiful with olive skin. He had difficulty sleeping so my husband and I would take turns to push the pram around inner city Melbourne suffering pitying glances from passers-by.

At six months the crying miraculously stopped and we could enjoy him. As a young child, he was quiet, an observer, shy, and 'clingy'. He made friends easily enough, though and achieved all of his milestones.

Watch: One mum shares her struggles in trying to save her drug-addicted son. Post continues after video.

Video via YouTube/CBC News: The National.

At 16, I knew he was smoking weed. It wasn't surprising. My husband had been smoking weed since he was a teen and still did as an adult. He didn't really hide it, his bong was left lying around much to my disgust. It was a little wonder Pat felt it was okay to experiment. 

Despite this, from 16 to around 20, Pat seemed to have his life under control. He scraped through finished VCE, started uni, landed a job and bought his first car. 

But at 20, he met Jack*. 

I found out that Jack used to be a heroin addict but was now clean. I was not thrilled at this friendship, but you find out as a parent that once a child hits 18, there is not a lot you can control. 

Soon Pat started to change. He'd fall into deep periods of sleep early in the morning or nod off while reading a book, or mid-sip of a coffee, spilling the contents onto the floor. His speech would be slow, and his mood 'off'. 

I shared my fears with my now ex-husband, that Pat was trying harder drugs. His father assured me it was just experimentation, and that's just what kids did. When I questioned Pat about it, he told me to 'chill out and leave him alone'. 

Pat started to isolate himself when he was at home. He'd also go out till the early hours with Jack.

I started to find pieces of burned tin foil, and small plastic bags lying around his room.

Then, one day when Jack was over, my worst fears were realised. 

I walked into Pat's bedroom and the image of what I saw will be branded in my memory forever. 

Pat and Jack were both lying on the carpet, a syringe discarded close by. 

For a moment I thought they were both dead, then Pat muttered, "what the f**k?"

He acted like I'd just woken him up from a Saturday morning sleep-in. While Pat got into bed to sleep it off, I drove Jack home. 

"So what's Pat taking?" I asked calmly as I gripped the steering wheel, white-knuckled. 

"Pat has taken a bit of a liking to heroin," he answered. 

"Does he use needles?" I asked. "No," he replied. "He smokes it. The syringe was mine. I'm sorry." I nodded. Slightly relieved. "Thanks for telling me," I said. I kept my expression neutral, while inside I struggled to keep from throwing up.

Back home, a teary, sullen, shameful Pat, swore he had it under control. He claimed he used heroin infrequently and would easily give it up. 

At 23, I could not lock him in his room despite the absolute desire to. He refused to go to NA and grudgingly agreed to see a psychologist.

The following couple of years were bad, with the early morning hours the worst. Alone in bed, my mind played out scenes of overdoses, car accidents, Pat progressing to shooting up, of him being arrested. 

The nights he went out, I couldn't rest until he was home. The nights he was home, I would enter his room, just as I did when he was a baby, I would put my face to his cheek to check he was still breathing.

I felt so much guilt. Had I been too soft? Absent? Controlling?

Then there was the fear, anxiety and shame. What would my friends think if they found out? Was I a terrible mum?

Then I'd get angry. Why was Pat doing this to me? Why wouldn't he accept help? 

The turning point came when James, another friend of Pat's, died of an overdose.

Pat sobbed in my arms, tears and snot pouring down his face. He finally made the decision to 'get clean'. After 'white knuckling' it, and a few lapses, he was introduced to a local GP who had specialised in supporting kids suffering from addiction

I was initially not supportive of the idea. I still had it in my head that if you were mentally strong enough, you should be able to 'just say no'. I was at that point uneducated and naïve. But I eventually came around and Pat was injected with long-lasting Suboxone which put a stop to the craving and gave the head space to do the hard work of making life changes. 

To me, it seemed like magic. Within a few short weeks, Pat began to emerge from the dark and terrible place that is addiction. My darling boy returning to me a day at a time.

Listen to Help! I Have A Teenager where one mum found out her step-daughter is taking drugs and isn’t sure what to do, and another wants to know the best way to talk to kids about substances you’ve tried yourself. Post continues after podcast.

Pat has been sober ever since. There are times I feel angry about what Pat put our family through. Having a child suffering an addiction is all-encompassing and emotionally draining, I hate the wasted years. But I know that he suffered more than me and is still paying the price.

Despite these fleeting negative emotions, the two of us have a stronger relationship than ever. Enough time has passed for him to be able to talk about his addiction and what it was like for him. He has apologised over and over. 

My overriding emotion now is gratitude. I feel like my story is tame compared to the grief that some other mothers of addicts have experienced.

I now know the face of addiction is not the stereotype my friends hold in their minds when they talk derisively of 'junkies'. They are my son, Jack, James and thousands of other normal kids who for whatever reason have turned to drugs to fill a hole in their lives. 

*Names have been changed due to privacy.

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

Feature image: Canva.

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